Home Alone: Family Fun Edition Review
Macaulay Culkin just can't catch a break. Having attained a reputation as the poster boy for the bottom of the kiddie-comedy barrel, he has now made the awkward transition to the world of grown-up movies but still can't seem to shake off that image of the snide, overpaid child star whose face many people would dearly love to punch. Home Alone is without a doubt his best-known role, and the one that made him the multi-million-dollar megastar he at one point was. It's certainly easy to knock the film, and that has as much to do with the inferior sequels and rip-offs that it spawned as anything, but Home Alone is actually a great movie and one of the most enjoyable pieces of Christmas entertainment I can ever remember seeing.
It's the sort of thing every kid dreams about. After having to endure his home being filled with obnoxious cousins, after having to tolerate his older siblings picking on him constantly, after being told that "there are fifteen people in the house and [he is] the only one who has to make trouble", and after being told that in the morning everyone will be jetting off to Paris to spend Christmas with an uncle and aunt he barely knows, 8-year-old Kevin McCallister (Culkin) wakes up to find everyone gone. Delighted by the thought that he has made his family disappear, Kevin throws a party for himself and proceeds to indulge in all the things his parents and siblings wouldn't allow.
Of course, his family haven't actually disappeared, and when, half-way between Chicago and Paris, they realize that they have left their darling son behind, parents Peter (John Heard) and Kate (Catherine O'Hara) are understandably upset. The only problem is that, with this being Christmas, every single flight back to the US is full. Kevin, meanwhile, finds himself having to deal with two marauding burglars, Harry (Joe Pesci) and Marv (Daniel Stern), intent on plundering the deserted street of all its valuables, as well as his disturbing elderly neighbour, Old Man Marley (Roberts Blossom). Faced with being home alone, Kevin decides to do the only thing he can: to defend his home from intruders, by any means necessary.
Nostalgia has a lot to do with it, certainly. This, for me, is the quintessential festive film, and in my house the year just wouldn't be complete if the Home Alone DVD (and previously VHS) didn't get played at least a dozen times. This remains by far my most oft-rewatched movie, and despite knowing every line by heart it never seems to get old. The movie taps into many of the things that appeal most to children, and it's hard not to feel elated at first when Kevin exclaims "I made my family disappear?" After all, how many of us, both as children and adults, can claim to have never wished we could do the same? When he careens around the house in a state of giddy excitement, gorging himself on ice cream and watching the movie his parents wouldn't let him see the night before, how could anyone who still remembers what it was like to be that age not empathize? Writer/producer John Hughes reportedly banged the script out in a single weekend, and it is, I suspect, the simplicity of the whole affair that makes it so successful.
Then of course there are the various mishaps that befall Kevin's adversaries. Harry and Marv, a.k.a. the Wet Bandits, must rank as two of the most incompetent thieves in cinematic history. Their feckless antics make the stars of America's Dumbest Criminals look like hardened professionals. Despite being subjected to all manner of abuse during their journey into and through the McCallister household, it takes them till near the end of the movie to work out that following Kevin when he shouts "I'm down here, you big horse's ass! Come and get me!" will simply lead them straight into yet another excruciating trap. This, however, is what makes the film so enjoyable. Never in real life could criminals this stupid exist, let alone have successfully pulled off so many previous heists. Marv is too gormless to seem capable of a feat as ingenious as flooding each home he has robbed, and the scheming Harry - who has planned the Christmas burgling spree to the extent that he has personally wormed the holiday plans out of every one of the street's residents - is the one who suggests climbing from the house to a tree-house via a rope. Yet for all its unbelievability (no-one could, for a single moment, imagine that they could ever survive the injuries inflicted upon the pair, let alone keep getting back up for more), it is at times hard not to feel sorry for Harry and Marv. They are simply so incompetent that you almost want to see them succeed, if only so that they can exact revenge on the infuriating Culkin. This could never happen, of course, be we can dream.
The traps themselves are ingenious in their simplicity, and better yet they are satisfyingly brutal. Not many family films would feature heads being set on fire by blowtorches, large rusty nails penetrating bare feet, and ribs being thrashed soundly with crowbars. These over the top antics were clearly inspired by those of classic cartoons like Tom and Jerry, and in fact the relationship between Kevin and the Wet Bandits is almost identical to that of the infamous cat and mouse duo. A cartoonish air perpetrates every injury, with the Bandits being inflicted with wounds that would surely kill or at least irreversibly maim in real life, and yet despite all this their brutality is still palpable. Having said that, Home Alone has heart too, and while at times it threatens to descend into mawkishness, it never becomes unbearably over-sentimental, a problem that has plagued many of John Hughes and director Chris Columbus' other projects. Home Alone is, when all said and done, damn good fun, and despite the criticism it often receives, it remains one of the most enjoyable Christmas movies ever made. I love this film, and I'm not ashamed to admit it. Now to order myself a lovely cheese pizza, just for me...
Released in 2000, the original bare-bones version of Home Alone is one of the most obnoxiously bad commercially available DVDs of a mainstream film. Mastered from what looks like a LaserDisc source and heavily (and I mean really heavily) noise reduced, it featured virtually no fine detail at all and rendered the entire image as a mess of smearing, artefacting and edge enhancement.
To say that the 2006 "Family Fun Edition" improves considerably on its predecessor would be the understatement of the year. The new transfer, unlike its predecessor, actually passes muster, looking pleasingly film-like despite some temporal noise reduction. It also reveals that the earlier release was missing a substantial amount of picture, especially from the top and left-hand side. Interestingly, the overall difference in appearance is very similar to that of The Omen, another Fox release given the special edition treatment this year: the new release is somewhat soft, but smooth and filmic, while showing a slightly bluer colour tint than its predecessor. One flaw that should be noted with this new release, though, is that some of the highlights appear to be being clipped.
In terms of audio, the new release provides a brand-new 5.1 remix, which, to my jaded ears, sounds like a solid effort that broadens the sound stage and puts the rear channels to use without betraying the original mix. Luckily, for purists, the original 2.0 Dolby Surround mix is also provided, and it too sounds very good. Spanish and French dubs are also provided in 2.0 Dolby Surround, as well as English and Spanish subtitles for the film, but unfortunately not the extras.
For the original release of the film, the only extras Fox were able to dig out for such a major title were trailers for each of the three Home Alone films. Thankfully, this problem has been rectified with this new release, which, despite its deceptively juvenile tag of "Family Fun Edition", actually has a lot of good material to offer.
First up is an audio commentary with director Chris Columbus and star Macaulay Culkin. Recorded 16 years after the film was originally released, the pair still have vivid memories of their experience, and they discuss a wide range of subjects on this animated and gently self-deprecating track. The absence of John Hughes is somewhat regrettable, a point that the pair acknowledge themselves, but, given that he seems to have churned the script out in record time, one has to wonder how revealing his comments would have been. In any event, this is, surprisingly, one of the best commentaries I have heard this year, and it's one that Home Alone fans will definitely not want to miss.
The remaining extras are a combination of archival and newly produced material. The original 1990 press featurette is provided, which isn't particularly meaty but definitely serves as an interesting document of its time. Also provided is a piece entitled "Mac Cam", which, appropriately enough, is comprised of footage shot by Macaulay Culkin, who was handed a camcorder to play around with on set. The piece also features some brief retrospective comments from the now-adult Culkin, and is generally pretty interesting in that it (literally) shows the making of a major film from a child's perspective.
As far as the new materials are concerned, the most substantial is The making of Home Alone, a 20-minute piece featuring comments from a range of cast and crew members, including Columbus, Culkin, actor Daniel Stern, cinematographer Julio Macat, and various producers and members of the stunt team. One again, it's a shame John Hughes is missing, as are Joe Pesci, John Heard, Catherine O'Hara and a number of the other stars, but those present make up for their absence and generally enjoy reminiscing about their experience. A shorter piece, dedicated to the stunts of the film, is also included, in addition to a rather amusing multi-language reel, and finally a light-hearted piece in which various cast and crew members joke about what would have happened to Kevin's older brother, Buzz, in the last 16 years. The real capper, appropriately enough, is Devin Ratray, who played the character, revealing what he does with himself these days.
Also included are a blooper reel, several deleted scenes and alternate takes of surviving scenes, three theatrical trailers, and an isolated presentation of the fake 40s film noir that Kevin watches, "Angels with Filthy Souls". (The presentation of the latter is marred by the fact that someone incorrectly matted this to 1.85:1, despite the fact that, were it really a product of the 40s, it would have been presented in the Academy ratio.) Finally, three interactive games are also provided, although their value is, unsurprisingly, rather limited.
"This film is crying out for the lavish treatment already bestowed on many of its inferior brethren. I would especially appreciate seeing unexpurgated versions of the scenes from 'Angels With Filthy Souls', the amusing (and convincingly true to its intended vintage) gangster movie watched by Kevin that was specially created for this film. Given Home Alone's popularity, a new release laden with features and boasting an improved transfer is long overdue."
Those were my comments when I reviewed the previous release of Home Alone around at this time two years ago, and, much to my amazement, Fox has answered every single one of my prayers, and more besides. Dodgy name tag aside, this new release of Home Alone more than makes up for the inadequacies of its predecessor, and is unlikely to disappoint even the biggest Grinch. Whether or not you already own a copy of Home Alone, I recommend you pick up a copy of this solid new release forthwith, and partake of the Christmas spirit.
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